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SALT LAKE CITY — Every former student can recall the days of sitting in English class, trying desperately to glean meaning from a reading passage. — a freshly sharpened pencil hovering over the page, mind churning in an attempt to answer questions about what happened, why it happened and who was involved.
For many, reading comprehension is one of the hardest skills to master.
Learning Rx, a brain-training tutoring company, defines the skill this way: "Reading comprehension is what allows the reader to interact with the text in a meaningful way. It's the bridge from passive reading to active reading — from letters and words to characters and contexts. Reading comprehension is the crucial link to effective reading — a strong factor in our educational and professional lives. For many, reading comprehension also unlocks the door to a lifetime of reading recreation and enjoyment."
Conversations about reading — what students are getting from their books — need to be an ongoing event.
–Donalyn Miller, author
This vital skill can open the world of reading to a child, but unfortunately many American students struggle with reading comprehension. Several studies suggest that as many as 85 percent of students are testing low in core reading skills because they lack a firm foundation in cognitive functions, such as auditory and visual possessing.
As a parent, you can do simple things to help develop or improve these basic but crucial skills in your child and help him not only understand what he's reading, but love it.
One of the best ways to help do this is to talk about what has been read to the child or what he has read. Have discussions, ask questions.
Donalyn Miller, author of "The Book Whisperer," said, "Conversations about reading — what students are getting from their books — need to be an ongoing event." Though she's talking to teachers, Miller's advice goes for parents and reading in the home as well.
To take reading discussions to the next level, include book activities that bring the words on the page to life. This is a simple way to have children connect the things they read to the real world and develop skills for proficient reading comprehension. Plus, it's a fun and meaningful way to spend time together.
Here are five fun, easy book activities to try. The activities are geared toward storybook-age kids, ages 3 to 8, but not limited to them:
- "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond"If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" is the fun story of a comical sequence of events that follows after a mouse has some cookies. This classic is entertaining and hilarious. Read the book to your child a few times and allow him to become familiar with the story. Then, together, make a batch of your favorite chocolate chip cookies. As you make the cookies, ask your child a few questions about the book. Ask about plot, character and even setting. See if he can name all the funny things that happen after the mouse eats his cookies. This is by far the easiest and most simple of these activities. It can be done over and over and adapted to any of the "If You Give ..." books.
- "Harold and the Purple Crayon," by Crockett Johnson"Harold and the Purple Crayon," another children's classic, is the story of a small boy and the adventures he creates with his purple crayon. Children are intrigued and fascinated by all the things Harold can do just by imagining and drawing. Read the story a few times. When the subject matter is familiar, it is time for the activity. On a long wall in your home — hallways work well — tape a long sheet of paper (such as art easel rolls of white paper from IKEA for around $5). If you're worried about crayon on the wall, layer two to three sheets of paper and keep a Magic Eraser handy. When the paper is ready, hand the child a purple crayon and let him create his own magic. As he draws, ask questions about the book or have him draw some of the same things that Harold draws. To encourage imaginative skills and story structure understanding (both vital reading skills), ask him to tell you his own story about what he draws.
- "Barnyard Dance," by Sandra BoyntonSandra Boynton's books are some of the best board books out there. The illustrations are whimsical, the writing humorous and, best of all, short. These are the ideal books for little ones who don't sit still for more than a minute or two. "Barnyard Dance" is about the animals on the farm doing a silly dance. Read this several times and then plan a trip to a nearby farm, such as Wheeler Farm (6351 S. 900 East, Salt Lake City, free admission) or Thanksgiving Point Farm Country (3003 N. Thanksgiving Way, Lehi, $5/adult, $5/child 3-12). Take the book along and point out the animals as you see them at the farm. To boost the fun factor, have the child do a dance as he comes to each animal — "Trot with the turkey," "Slide with the sheep," "Prance with the horses," etc.
- Utah Festival of Books, June 4, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- The King's English Author Events and Semi-annual Sale, June 9-12
- Writing and Illustration for Young Readers Conference, June 13-17
- Literary Worlds: Illumination of the Mind exhibit at BYU, through June 2011
1. "My Big Dinosaur Book," by Roger PriddyIf you have a small dinosaur fan in your house, then "My Big Dinosaur Book" is a must-have. Each dinosaur picture is labeled with its name and the pages are organized into interesting groups. Once your child is familiar with this book, plan a trip to the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point (3003 N. Thanksgiving Way, Lehi, $10/adult, $8/child 3-12). This fun and interactive museum is perfect for children of all ages and a dinosaur fan's heaven. Take the book along and match up the dinosaurs to the life-sized skeletons in the museum. This activity not only connects the book to real life, it also helps memory retention of the facts learned in the book. 2. "The House in the Night," by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth KrommesA Caldecott Medal winner, "The House in the Night" is absolutely stunning. The story is brief, simple and perfectly lovely. The illustrations are breath-taking. The story begins, "In the house / burns a light. / In that light / rests a bed. On that bed / waits a book." From there, a beautiful nighttime adventure begins, including the shining stars and glorious full moon.Read the book one or two times and then on a clear summer night take the family outside. Spread a blanket on the grass and lay back. Point out the stars and the moon, talk about the purposes and functions of each. Point out constellations and talk about the phases of the moon. Then by flashlight — and maybe with a treat in hand — read the book again while sitting under the stars together. This activity is great for connecting a fictional story to real-life science. It's also a great way to take advantage of a pleasant summer night. Activities and outings are a great way to make books come alive and to give a child a jump on his reading comprehension and other important learning skills. It's also a fun way to create wonderful family memories. The possibilities are endless. Next week: Technology vs. Tradition: E-reader or books. -----